[From The Mormons by Gunnison, 1852]
AMONG the teeming events of the present era, one of the most remarkable is the formation of a state by a peculiar people, in the far interior of America, which has assumed the name of Des-er-et,a mystic word, taken from the Book of Mormon,* signifying, the Land of the Honey-Bee.
Its present capital and principal settlement is in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. In this and contiguous vales are the gardens of the mountains, in which the bee and its fostering companion, man, have lately been colonized and from which neither will carry away the stores gathered into the domestic hive. Industrious alike, the sweet bounties of Providence are collected, to be luxuriated upon at home, in all the freedom of their being and constitution of their nature. This valley is situated midway between the states of the great Mississippi and the golden empire rising to life and influence on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. It is isolated from habitable grounds; having inhospitable tracts to the north and south, and the untimbered slope of the Rocky Mountains, nearly a thousand miles wide, on the east, and nearly a thousand miles of arid salt-deserts on the west, broken up by frequent ridges of sterile mountains. This fertile tract, therefore, presents itself to us with varied associations, an object of curious contemplation.
The Mormon settlements are in that remarkable depression styled The Great Basina region embraced in the Rocky Mountain land out of which no waters flow. That Alpine district extends along the western side of the American continent, covering sixteen degrees of longitude in the Utah latitudes, and is a succession of nearly parallel mountain ranges, having a north and south direction. Between these ridges are the valleys, whose average width may be twenty miles. In some places, the ranges are abruptly terminated for a space, leaving a gap, termed a kanyon, or pass, according to the width of the break in the mountain. Those are names given by the trappers, who were the pioneer white men into those solitudes.
The absence of one or more short ranges, opposite each other, will occasionally unite several valleys into one. It is through the kanyons or narrow gorges, with perpendicular sides of rock, and the still wider passes into the plains between, that remarkably level routes for travel are found across the continent. The " South Pass" in the great eastern chain, is more than a hundred miles long, or wide, as it is usual to designate it, and then going west, you enter the great coal basin through which Green river flows. A narrower pass is near Bear river, and crossing over a gentle swell, one enters the Weber river kanyon, and emerging upon the beautiful Kamas prairie, that extends to the Timpanogas, the road lies down its bank into Utah valley. Here the choice of northern or southern routes is offered. The one by the Mary's river is most followed in summer, but a high pass on the Sierra Nevada has to be surmounted. The other is south-westerly in direction, across the Great Basin, and doubles the mountain into the head of the Tulare valleys, whence the way to San Francisco, or some Pacific port, is to be selected on feasible and fertile ground.
The Great Basin is that high level, over four thousand feet above the ocean, between the Nevada and Wahsatch ranges. It is a desert in character, with some fertile strips flanking the bases of the highest ridges. This vast region is mountainous; the ranges generally from two to three thousand feet high, and parallel with the main ones on the sides, with some partial cross ridges that form minor basins. In the interior, therefore, fresh water becomes scarce, for these hills do not collect sufficient snow in winter, the only wet season, to furnish irrigating streams, and fertilise the trench of allavion at their base, or water the plains between; and the consequence follows that these tracts are parched and arid, and frequently so impregnated with alkali as to make them unfit for vegetable life. Artemisias and Salicornias contend for a miserable existence on portions of the plains; and bunch grass furnishes grazing on the hill-sides for antelope and deer. There is not properly a "rim," or continuous mountain, particularly on the north; but a "divide" between the parallel ranges, which is sometimes a swamp, out of which the waters flow in contrary directions; and the position of this feature may be observed, on the map of the Great Valley, to the west of Bear river. This interior basin is about five hundred miles in diameter either way, and in the eastern part have the Mormons settled.
Along the western foot of the Wahsatch range, for three hundred miles, is a strip of allavion, from one to two miles in width,and, in the valley of the Jordan, this is widened by what can be reclaimed by irrigating from its waters; and the spots similarly situated, in other valleys, furnish the only land suited to cultivation in the Utah Territory. This arises from the want of rain during the growing season; and water for the crops is only to be procured from the numerous streams that flow down n the mountain gorges, fed during the spring, and into midsummer, by the melting snows. The higher mountains retain the snow, and irrigate the bases the longest time, and where the streams cannot be taken at the kanyon mouths, and led off for the farmer's use, the ground is lost to the plough. Most of these creeks are absorbed in the porous alluvion before they have reached a mile from the base, and frequently re-appear in very diminished quantity in springs, at too low a level for use, in the arid plain that borders the salt pools or lakes. The land around Salt Lake is flat, and rises imperceptibly on the south and west for several miles, where it is not broken up by the abrupt hills, and is a soft and sandy barren, irreclaimable for agricultural purposes. On the north the tract is narrow, and the springs bursting out near the surface of the water, the grounds cannot be irrigated; but the eastern side, above the line of overflow when the lake rises with the spring freshets, is fertile and cultivated between the mountain and shore.
On the south of the lake, and above the alkaline barrens, lie the more fertile valleys of the Jordan and Tuilla, separated by the Oquirrh Mountain; and these are divided from the plains which lie to the south, between the same ranges, by the Traverse Mountain, which is a cross ridges diminishing in height to the westward. Here is fine grazing during the entire year, and the east of Jordan Valley is watered by bold streams that traverse a strip of allusion twenty miles long by eight in width, to the banks of the Jordan. This great stream rushes with a foaming torrent through the kanyon cut in the cross range, and descends about one hundred feet in a distance of two miles, where the current becomes more gentle and winding, to the great lake below. The banks are steep and high, immediately below the kanyon, but gradually retreat and slope away to the Oquirrh hills, and a canal can easily be carried on the level of the kanyon, winding on a curve to Spring Point, twenty miles from the city. The chalky waters of the Jordan can be used for irrigating eighty additional square miles in the valley, and furnish water-power very accessible, and to any required extent, for milling, machinery, or manufactures. Ascending the Traverse range, a beautiful panorama of lake, plain, and river, embosorned with lofty and romantic mountains, bursts upon the view. Here is the lovely Utah Lake and its winding outlet; and the Timponogas, with four other rivers' fringed with cottonwoods, a sight so seldom seen in these regions, and, by contrast, enchanting. All the valley on the east side of the lake is fertile, and the waters throughout fresh and sparkling, as they rapidly descend to the quiet reservoir
The valleys afford perennial pasturage, but the hill-sides furnish the bunch grass only during the warm months of the year. It seeds in summer, and is germinated by the autumnal rains, and grows under the snowy covering of winter. In the spring, as the snow-line retreats up the slope, under the melting influence of the approaching sun, the cattle and wild grazing animals follow it to the mountain peaks until midsummer, to be driven down again as the accumulating snow, beginning on the summits about the equinox, descends in a few weeks to the base. When it rains on the valleys, the snow falls on the mountains, and, during winter an immense quantity is drifted into the kanyons and passes, to the depth sometimes of hundreds of feet, blocking up the roads, and making prisoners at home, those who sojourn in those solitudes
The difficulty in procuring fencing materials, has caused the fields to be left imperfectly enclosed, and slightly protected; and it becomes necessary to set the youth to attend the cattle during the day, and drive them to the corrals, or fenced yards, at night This position of these two descriptions of land, the cultivated and the waste, renders the people there residing, equally a pastoral and an agricultural community. All the cultivated lands, that is those brought under irrigation, can be allotted to raising cereals and vegetables. The flocks and herds driven to the hills in summer, and fed upon the plains in winter, will furnish one halt the provisions required to sustain the population that can be accommodated on the cultivated belt between the pastures. The soil, in its mineral composition, is of the most fertile description, having been formed out of disintegrated feldspathic rocks of the summits, and mixed with the debris and decomposed limestones from the lower altitudes. As many as sixty bushels of wheat are usually grown to the acre, and when strict regard has been paid to watering the crops, a greater yield has been given, and, in one instance, a hundred and eighty fold was reaped from the drilling of one bushel upon three acres; and the average of sustenance from root crops is more abundant still. The potato grows luxuriantly, and of a delightful quality, and the sugar-beet attains to an enormous size, from which good molasses is manufactured; and the attempt will soon be made to extract sugar from the same, to supply the demands of the market.
In order to estimate the probable amount of population which can well be sustained in the territory, we may safely rely on an equivalent of two thousand pounds of flour to the acre of the plowed lands, and, drawing the meat part of the ration, or one half, from the herds fed elsewhere, there could be fed four thousand persons on the square mile. Such a density of inhabitants it can hardly be supposed will ever be attained there; but, modified by the peculiar circumstances of the case, and social character of the people, and giving a far less amount to the mile we may calculate that the territory of Utah will maintain, with ease, a million of inhabitants. Stretching southward from the point we have been noticing, and passing over the rim of the Great Basin into a cotton-growing region, and where it is contemplated to try the sugar-cane; having abundant iron mines every where in its whole extent, and inexhaustible beds of coal in the Green River Basin with hill pastures, the finest in the world for sheep and wool raising with water-power for manufactures on every considerable streamthere are elements for a great and powerful mountain nation; and the part such a force could play toward those on either side is not an insignificant one for our consideration.
There are three salt lakes in Central Utah; the greatest of them surrounded with romantic scenery, and invested with interest by many a legend among the early discoverers and mountain trappers. The water is perfectly saturated with salt, and so dense that persons float, corklike, on its waves, or stand suspended with ease, with the shoulders exposed above the surface.
The shores of its bays in summer are lined with the skeletons and larvae of insects, and the few fish that venture too far from the Mouths of the rivers, and these form banks that fester and ferment, emitting sulphurous gases, offensive to the smell, but not supposed deleterious to health; and these, often dispersed by storms, are at last thrown far up the beach to dry into hard cakes of various dimensions, on which horses can travel without breaking them through; the underside being moist, the masses are slippery and insecure. The salt-boilers affirm that they obtain two measures of salt from three of the brine, and they have christened this sheet of water, which is seventy miles long, with the name of the "Greet Briny Shallow." There are several beautiful islands enclosed, two of them of considerable magnitude, with a mountain ridge through the centre two thousand feet high, and fresh springs of water, which have caused them to be selected by the shepherds and herdsmen for their occupation. The silence that surrounds one when standing on these islands, and having an unobstructed view of every part of the vast expanse, is very impressive; and as he floats on the surface of the waves, the eye traces several terraces around the contour of the islands, and along the adjacent mountains, on the whole circumference parallel with the horizon; and they seem to indicate that these have once been the borders of a mighty inland sea, whose waters retired suddenly to certain distances, by regular upheavings of the land, or equal outbreaks, to a lower level. Three principal terraces, each retreating about fifty feet above the other, may be counted; and their exact planes and magnitude show the comparison of the works of nature with the feeble imitations of man, in beauty, sublimity, and permanence.
At the base of the hills, around the lake, issue numerous warm springs, that collect in pools and smaller lakes; inviting aquatic fowl, during the winter, to resort to their agreeable temperature, and where insect larva furnishes food at all times; and the soil is so heated that snow cannot lie in their vicinity. In some places springs of different temperatures are in close proximity, some so hot that the hand cannot be thrust into them without pain; and near the Bear is a depression, in which issue three fountains between the strata, within a space of thirty feet; of which one is a hot sulphur, the next tepid and salt, and the uppermost, cool, delicious drinking waterthe three currents unite, and flow off through the plain, a large and bold river. There are also warm "breathing" or gas-intermitting fountains, chalybeate and gypsum springs, of high and low temperatures. Those in the vicinity of the city have been arranged into delightful bathing reservoirs and bath-houses, out of the tithing fund, to which all are counselled to resort for cleanliness and health, at so small a charge, that it becomes a public luxury, safe and beneficial. It is a refreshing and delightful sport to bathe in the Salt Lake, but on emerging, the person is completely frosted over in purest white, and a fresh spring is a necessary appendageit may be called the whitewashing ewer, applicable to the body if not the character.
Wild game abounds for the table, in the antelope, deer, and feathered tribesthe bear, panther, and smaller animals of prey, for the adventurous sportsman, range through hill, valley, and desert; and the angler can choose his fish, either in the swift torrents of the kanyons, where the trout delights to live, or in the calmer currents on the plains, where he will find abundance of the pike, the perch, the bass, and the chub. Along the brackish streams, from the saline springs, grows a thick tangled grass, and the marshy flats are covered with fine reeds or dense festucas. In early summer the shepherd lads fill their baskets with the eggs deposited in that cover by the goose, the duck, the curlew, and plover; or, taking a skiff, they can row to the Salt Lake islands, and freight to the water's edge with those layed for successive broods by the gull, the pelican, the blue heron, the crane, and the brandt.
Every day of the year has a different landscape for the eye, in the variety of light and shade cast by the sun, as he approaches toward, and recedes from, those frowning cliffs and snow-clad peaksand the different coloured garb of the seasons, nature's change of fashions, so much imitated by the lovers of dress, on whom her lessons are not bestowed in vain, comes to aid in breaking up the monotony. On the south-east rises the lofty head of the Lone Peak, with double buttressed pillars on the summit, that look like an open portal to giant chambers in the clouds; and not far off; on the north, stand the Twin Peaks, side by side, like conjugal partners hesitating awhile on earth, before they pass through this inviting door to mansions amid the stars. When these barren masses of grey rock are viewed near at hand, the mind labors under its load of sublimity, grandeur, and awebut when standing on some distant eminence, the eye seems to grasp the infinite before it, and distance softens the harsh outlines into wavy curves, with closing vistas between, lost in the horizon's edge; the senses become enraptured for awhile with vastness and beauty combined; but soon there comes welling up from the depths of the soul the feeling that something still is wanting, and coldness, sterility, and vacuity broods over the landscape. The full charm is not therefor the accessories of art spring not forth to make an agreeable variety, nor the forest-trees pointing to the skies, under whose shady retreats the weary of earth may contemplate their destiny.
Hidden away in the profound chasms and along the streams whose beds are deeply worn in the mountain sides are the cedar, pine dwarf-maple, and occasionally oak, where the inhabitants of the vale seek their fuel and building-timber, making journeys to obtain these necessaries from twenty to forty miles from their abodes.
The more exposed parts of the country are annually run over by the fires set by the Indians to kill and roast the crickets which they gather in summer for winter food. These fires ascend the furry hill-sides and penetrate the forest kanyonsand it is a beautiful but melancholy sight to see the withered vegetation swept away by the curling flames as they leap up the cliffs, lighting up at night the surrounding country with fitful splendours. One of the strenuous efforts making to improve the country, is to arrest this destructive process and convert the prairies into desirable woodlands.
The atmosphere of the valley is light, and breathing is a real luxury. The view being so unobstructed, an idea is prevalent that small objects can be seen at great distances distinctly, and some have asserted that a man could be noticed at fifty or a hundred miles. This is erroneous. In winter, if snow covers the ground and the cold air is free from moisture, a dark object shows very far:but in summer the atmosphere is filled with clouds of floaing insects that give a bluish haze, and make it a labor for it eye to use telescopes for geoditic purposes, and astronomical observations on the sun are very imperfect. On the barren plains an the arid valleys, after the dry season has a little advanced, the mirage will take up objects and distort them in the most fantastic manner; trees, rocks like houses, artemisia patches, and the white alkaline efflorescing flats, will seem to vibrate and pass before you like a panorama of garden groves, with beautiful parterres and pleasure-loving lakes and castellated mansions:a small stick close at hand will start up an immense giant at a distance; and far off things mock you with their retreatings as you endeavor to reach them; thinking that a few minutes may bring you to if landmarks or a pool of fresh water; and when hours of wee, travel have elapsed, your disappointment is complete as they sin out of sight beneath the horizon above which refraction has raise them. Sometimes a man walking alone, will be multiplied into troop marching with beautiful military exactness, and a few hors men riding in a disorderly manner converted into a troop performing various evolutions; and where there is reason to apprehend the enemies are near, there imagination lends a fearful aid to magnify the picture, and you must be careful to take the description of mountain guide with its due share of exaggeration.
At the mouth of the kanyons the breezes at night are ever free and strong: they issue into the valley and are occasioned by descending currents of air, cooled on the higher peaks and summits behind, and blow like the stream from a funnel; which makes the residence near those openings in summer a safe retreat from the attacks of the universal mosquito, and the " sand flies "'brules " that in unprotected places annoy the denizens.
1: The Latter-Day Saints" pretend to derive the word Mormon from the Gaelic and a branch of the Teutonic dialects: compounding it from Mor, more or great, and from Mon signifying good, and therefore it importsmore good, great good. Mormon, mormonos, Greek, signifies a female spectre a phantom a hideous monster.
These two definitions may be deemed to convey the different opinions of the supporters and opposers of Mormonism.